Siesta Seen

Sheriff’s Office substation leader offers monthly and yearly crime stats; SKA members have plenty of traffic-related questions; Realtor provides information about sales and rentals in Siesta market; revision in Army Corps of Engineers Lido bid addendum explained; SKA director loses his wife to illness; and SKA has people aplenty at first meeting of 2020

Sgt. Arik Smith prepares to answer a question during an SKA meeting. File photo

With the start of a New Year, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s substation on the Key, not only had December 2019 crime statistics for members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) at their Jan. 9 meeting, he also had a report comparing overall figures from 2019 to those from 2018.

The Sheriff’s Office had about 308 calls for service on the Key in December 2019, Smith said. They ranged from petty thefts to grand thefts, assaults to residential break-ins, he continued.

The most serious types of incidents are those the FBI calls “Part 1 crimes,” he explained.

Those include robberies, aggravated assaults and motor vehicle thefts, Smith said — “any type of thefts.”

Generally, the Sheriff’s Office statistics show the number of Part 1 crimes on the Key for a given month is right around 4%, he continued.

However, in December 2019, Smith added, the Key “had a lot more people” than it did in December 2018, when potential visitors were worried they might encounter lingering effects of the red tide bloom.

In the summer of 2018, people on or near the Sarasota County coastline were contending with tons of dead fish — along with sea turtles and some sea mammals killed by red tide. The bloom also produced an aerosol that has been proven to be especially harmful to people with breathing problems, as a respiratory specialist told SKA members at their 2019 Annual Meeting.

Business owners were among those pointing out to him how many more tourist were on Siesta for the holiday period in 2019 than in 2018, Smith told the SKA members.

As a result, he continued, the Sheriff’s Office calls for service was higher and the percentage of Part 1 crimes grew to 5.5%.

One of those was an assault involving neighbors who engaged in an argument, Smith explained. In another case, “One guy riding a bike got shot in the head with a nerf gun.”

The latter comment prompted a round of laughter among audience members.

Additionally, Smith said, two bike thefts were reported in December 2019, but both bicycles were recovered. Given the popularity of bike riding on the Key, he noted, thefts are “usually a hot topic.”

As for crime year-over-year: Again, citing the red tide factor for much of 2018, Smith said that the number of calls in 2019 reflected what Sheriff’s Office personnel considered more of a normal situation for Siesta. For example, he continued, residential and vehicle burglaries were up about 35% to 40% from 2018 to 2019.

Still, though, Part 1 crimes made up only about 4% of the total for 2019, he added. He attributed that to the fact that Siesta has “great residents, great people, great business owners [who] do a good job of educating people …” They let visitors know “what Siesta Key is all about,” Smith told the audience.

All sorts of questions for the sergeant

And given the full audience at that Jan. 9 SKA meeting, Smith fielded plenty of questions after he concluded his presentation.

The first speaker explained that he and his wife live north of Siesta Village. “We go for a walk every evening after dinner,” the man continued. “We see almost no [Sheriff’s Office] presence” in the Village, the man added. That situation was no different even on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the man pointed out.

The Old Salty Dog is packed on an early April 2019 evening on the north end of Siesta Village. File photo

“I understand there’s a lot of concentration” of officers at the public beach in the daytime, the man told Smith. However, after sunset, from Beach Access 7 to approximately the location of the Old Salty Dog restaurant on the north end of Siesta Village, the man said, “You see speeding all the time; you see obnoxious behavior.” He urged Smith to ensure that deputies patrol that area.

“We’ll do our best,” Smith replied, adding that the Sheriff’s Office tries to ensure an adequate level of enforcement all over the Key.

When the speaker again emphasized the speeding issue, Smith responded, “We’ll get on it.”

A second man told Smith that he and his wife live across the street from Siesta Public Beach. In the evenings, the man said, the couple has noticed gatherings of people “with very loud music playing,” especially on the weekends. They also have observed drivers doing doughnuts in the public parking lots at the beach, the man said. “I would hope you would keep an eye on [those incidents].”

“We’re aware of it,” Smith told the man. Most of those activities do occur on the weekends and when students are out of school, Smith continued. “It’s been going on a long time. … We’re trying our best to curb that.”

A woman in the audience asked if the Sheriff’s Office handles thefts from boats.

It does, Smith replied.

She then asked if Smith was aware of people having GPS systems stolen from boats in the area.

Smith told her the Sheriff’s Office was investigating several thefts involving two county waterways, including Phillippi Creek.

People start to cross Stickney Point Road at the Midnight Pass Road intersection in December 2016, after FDOT created new crosswalks and worked to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in that area. Rachel Hackney photo

Another man voiced concerns about the dangers pedestrians face in using the crosswalk at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road. “[People] push the button and run right across the street,” the man said, “and cars aren’t stopping like they should.”

The man asked if any plans are in the works to modify that crosswalk system.

“That’s a very, very busy intersection,” Smith acknowledged. “It can be kind of confusing, sometimes,” in regard to who has the right of way, Smith added.

He was uncertain, Smith continued, whether the county or the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has any plans to change the light cycles for vehicles or pedestrians at that intersection.

Smith did tell the audience he would work to get statistics on vehicle and pedestrian crashes at that location, so he could provide those to SKA members a their February meeting.

Then SKA Director Erin Kreis asked, “Can anything be done to get people to stop passing the stopped trolley?” She was referring to drivers in line behind the Siesta Key Breeze when it makes stops to pick up or let off passengers.

As she was heading to the SKA meeting that afternoon, Kreis continued, she saw four vehicles go around the trolley, using the center turn lane.

A van follows the Siesta Key Breeze as it heads toward Siesta Village on Beach Road a couple of years ago. Since the free service was launched in March 2017, drivers have complained about having to wait behind the trolley, especially during its frequent stops at the the height of tourist season. Rachel Hackney photo

People legally cannot pass vehicles on the road, Smith responded, when the lanes are separated by a solid yellow line or double yellow lines. If such lines are not present, he said, “As long as it’s safe … you’re allowed to pass other vehicles.”

When he asked Kreis where she saw the vehicles pass the trolley, she told him the Breeze was in front of the Casarina condominium complex, which is located at 5880 Midnight Pass Road.

“It’s almost all ‘No Passing’” in that area, Smith acknowledged. “It’s something we can be on the lookout for,” he added, referring to the situation she had described.

Sheriff’s deputies try to educate drivers, he continued. “People get in a hurry, even out here.”

Another SKA member told Smith that he has observed vehicles failing to slow down for pedestrians who use the Beach crosswalk that leads to Beach Access 10. Most drivers just continue through the crosswalk, the man indicated. “It’s a little scary,” he said, not knowing whether a driver will stop.

This is the crosswalk on Beach Road that people use to reach Beach Access 10. Rachel Hackney photo

The man asked whether any plans exist for installing flashing lights for pedestrians to activate at that crosswalk.

Sarasota County is in charge of the crosswalk signage and lights on Beach Road, Smith explained. “I don’t know that we’ll ever solve that issue” of drivers failing to watch out for pedestrians in crosswalks, Smith added, as long as Siesta has so many pedestrians, so many bicyclists and so many vehicles.

Many years ago, when this reporter first worked on Siesta Key, Sgt. Scott Osborne, the longtime Sheriff’s Office substation leader, offered excellent advice. He told this reporter never to cross the street — even in a marked crosswalk — if a vehicle was approaching unless the reporter had made eye contact with the driver to get a clear indication that the driver planned to stop.

A residential real estate update

During the Jan. 9 SKA meeting, President Catherine Luckner told the audience members that the directors had decided to offer a special presentation for them, thinking the topic might be of interest.

That topic, she continued, is “How is real estate holding up here?”

Then Luckner introduced Curt Ware, a broker with the Keller Williams firm in Sarasota.

Curt Ware addresses SKA members on Jan. 9. Rachel Hackney photo

Ware opened his remarks with statistics for December 2019, noting later that the Key essentially has two real estate seasons each year — one when most visitors are present; the other, when the Key is quieter.

In December 2019, Ware said, 396 residential properties on Siesta were for sale, pending sale or sold.

Nearly 15% to 20% of the actual inventory on the island will be under contract at any given time, he pointed out.

In December, Ware explained, “It shows down a little bit. … You’ll see a lot more inventory going on the market, especially as we come into season.”

Of the 314 properties initially listed for sale in December 2019, he continued, 129 were single-family homes and 162 were condominiums. The total includes townhouses and vacant land, he noted.

Of the 162 condominiums listed for sale in December, Ware continued, 22 went under contract and 28 closings were conducted.

The number of condominium listings, he noted, “is probably going to increase by 30[%] to 40% in January, February, March. People know that there’re more bodies down here [during that period].”

Generally, few commercial properties are put on the market, Ware pointed out, and most of those are located in Siesta Village and in the business districts on the south end of the Key, which also is called the South Village area.

Additionally, Ware said, “We have 147 active rentals just on our Multiple Listing System (MLS).” That figure does not include properties listed on Vrbo or through vacation management companies, for examples, he told the audience. “There’s going to be a ton of those coming on the market,” he added of rental options, as tourist season gets fully underway.

Update on the Lido Renourishment Project bid changes

People who read the Jan. 10 News Leader article about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ revisions to its new solicitation for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project may have missed an important update to that story.

Late in the afternoon of Jan. 10, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) spokesman David Ruderman, working out of the Jacksonville District Office, told the News Leaderthat in the documents put up on a government website on Dec. 17, 2019, “[T]he gentleman inadvertently published an earlier, draft version of the cubic yardage of fill to be deposited [on Lido Key Beach] …” The correct figure, as noted in the Jan. 8 addendum to the solicitation package, is 710,000 cubic yards.

“It happens,” Ruderman wrote; “people make mistakes.”

Lido Key Beach is relatively quiet on a late August 2019 day. An emergency renourishment project was completed on the shoreline in April 2019. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

In bids on the solicitation the USACE published in the spring of 2019 for the Lido initiative, one company put its expense per cubic yard of sand for the beach fill at $9.40; the other company listed its cost as $16 per cubic yard. The USACE ultimately rejected both bids as too expensive.

As for the reason the due date for bids on the new package was pushed back from Jan. 23 to Feb. 13, Ruderman explained that that is part of the effort to entice companies to bid. The Lido project was packaged in that solicitation with beach renourishment initiatives planned on Anna Maria Island.

The primary goal, he said, “is reduce the overall cost of the projects by [having a contractor take] advantage of having to mobilize [a] team and equipment only once for both projects.”

Heartfelt condolences to an SKA director and his family

Lana Volpe. Photo courtesy of the Volpe family

On Jan. 13, SKA Director Joe Volpe notified friends about the death of his wife, Swietlana “Lana” Volpe, the previous day in Michigan.

The Volpes had gone back to their home state to be with family members for the holidays.

Lana Volpe was a stalwart attendee of SKA meetings — always ready with a smile and warm words for members and guests.

She also was known as the “cookie lady,” SKA President Catherine Luckner pointed out in an email blast this week. Lana Volpe was the person who came up with the idea that the SKA board should offer treats to meeting attendees, Luckner noted.

Lana and Joe Volpe were married on Feb. 24, 1968, in Detroit, her obituary says.

Her funeral was planned for Jan. 19 in Romeo, Mich.

The Roth-Muir Funeral Home in Romeo is handling the arrangements, including the collection of thoughts and memories about Lana for the family.

Memorial donations may be made in her memory to the University of Michigan Cancer Center.

People aplenty

Season definitely has arrived on Siesta Key, based on attendance at the Jan. 9 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, when the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church was packed.

By the News Leader’s count, approximately 80 people were in the audience, joining the nine directors.

President Catherine Luckner noted the “great turnout today” as she surveyed the audience. “I’m just really happy to see you all,” she added.

Members await the start of the Jan. 9 SKA meeting at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. Rachel Hackney photo

The Jan. 9 meeting, she continued, was the first for the SKA in its 71st year. “I have a special secret,” she added, referring to the fact that she did not seem old enough to have presided over the nonprofit that entire time. The comment elicited laughter among the audience members.

The SKA has been meeting at St. Boniface for at least 12 years, Luckner noted.

This reporter can confirm that, having attended her first SKA meeting at the Episcopal church on Midnight Pass Road in April 2007. Then, the sessions were conducted in a classroom. Several years ago, the SKA board relocated the meetings to the Parish Hall to accommodate the growing number of attendees. For special events anticipated to draw even larger crowds, the SKA reserves St. Boniface’s Community Room at the rear of the church’s parking lot.

In response to a Jan. 9 question Luckner posed about how many newcomers were present that evening, quite a few hands went into the air.

“And we have new members, too,” Secretary Jean Cannon reported, meaning that some of those first-time attendees already had paid their $35 dues for 2020.

“We do have a very civil meeting,” Luckner explained to the newcomers, and the directors work hard to wrap up all the business before 6 p.m., when the church bells peal the hour.

In December 2019, she said with a laugh, she was trying to conclude the discussion as the ringing began.